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Technology Big Part of Future at Sycamore

By Larry Fletcher / Director of Technology / Sycamore School

Sycamore has a lot of technology available for the teachers and students. Our goal is to purchase and implement technology that is educationally driven.

We visit organizations and schools outside of Sycamore and have seen how other schools are using technology. Our technology team has been very successful taking ideas from our travels and implementing them at Sycamore. We now get calls and visits from other schools, wanting us to show them the equipment we have and how we incorporate technology into the classroom.

Our technology committee includes our tech personnel, division heads, and teacher representatives from each division. We meet during the school year and discuss our technology goals.and the best way to achieve them.

As we move into the 2015-16 school year, we move forward with a number of technology initiatives, including the second year of the Middle School 1-to-1 iPad program.   One of the results  of our Technology committee’s work was implementing the 1-to-1 iPad program before last school year.  The initiative is now integrated into grades 5 through 8.  It has been successful and has been gaining more usage from both as it becomes just another tool to use to in the classroom. Communications between teachers and students have improved since implementing the program.  Some other initiatives we are incorporating will be with the flipped classrooms, online textbooks, email, and research.

Technology also appears where the Sycamore open lab used to be. It was converted into an innovation lab over the most recent spring break. The lab is equipped with an interactive projector, Makey Makeys, 3D printer, structure sensor, Swivl. Stop by and we will demonstrate how it is being utilized.

Students are digital natives, which means they grew up using this technology. It comes naturally to them, so it is something they immediately embrace. We have entered their digital world.

We believe that technology is a big part of our present and will be a bigger part of our future.

Larry Fletcher is the Director of Technology at Sycamore School, and his team includes John George and B.J. Drewes.  They face the daily task of making sure the entire school stays connected, with the highest possible download rate and no hiccups. They also have an uncanny ability to know how to fix things we think we may have broken. 

What Your Gift Means to Sycamore

By Holly Lee / Director of Advancement / Sycamore School

IMG_1714Have you wondered what difference your gift makes to Sycamore School?  The truth is that your gift makes a big difference.  Like other independent schools, Sycamore School operates without the financial support from local, state or federal governments. As such, Sycamore deeply appreciates and depends on financial donations support our students and staff.

Financial gifts to the school average $400,000 each year. Sycamore depends on this money, and we budget yearly for this amount. Philanthropy to the school amounts to over $1,000 per student in benefits that tuition does not provide. These gifts directly fund academic and extracurricular needs as well as capital improvements.

In Sycamore’s 30 year history, gifts to the school have provided the place and the program we all enjoy today. At the beginning, Sycamore School families and teachers did not envision themselves as founders of a private, independent school. They simply wanted to provide a quality program to challenge gifted children. They began by renting space from a Unitarian church adjacent to Butler University. After four years in its original location, Sycamore was fortunate to be able to lease and then purchase an abandoned school building in Washington Township, the former Grandview Elementary School.

Sycamore’s program has always been the school’s primary point of focus. In 1998 “Growing in Excellence” capital campaign raised $4.1 million. Middle school classrooms, science, art and music rooms all underwent renovations.

In 2001, “Reach for the Stars” and  “Minds and Bodies” campaigns raised $5.1 million to fund a Lower school renovation, cafeteria renovations, new library, theater and gymnasium.

In addition to capital campaigns, The Sycamore Fund campaigns have been the lifeblood of the school. The Sycamore Fund, which is the annual campaign for gifts to the school, provides monies that are raised and spent within each academic school year. The largest donor each year to the campaign, SSA, holds a fundraiser annually whereby they give monies to the school that are spent in that school year. Ideally, Sycamore families should identify the school as one of their top philanthropic priorities and recognize that their contribution makes both an immediate and lasting impact on the school and its programs.

All gifts are important to Sycamore. Some donors can give more than others; however, it is important that all participate. Currently, all staff and trustees donate every year. We also ask our parents, former parents, grandparents and alumni to join us. Gifts at any level, when added to all other gifts received have a great impact on our school.

Holly Lee has been Sycamore School’s Director of Advancement for five years.  She’s focused on not-for-profit fundraising for the past 20 years.  Her three children, Austin, Meredith, and Garrett, attended Sycamore School.  Austin is a graduate of Wheaton College and George Washington University (MPH), and is working on his M.D. at IU School of Medicine. Meredith is a Butler University graduate, and working as a writer.  Garrett is going to be a senior at Indiana University in the Kelley School of Business.  

Navigating the Admissions Waters at Sycamore

by Susan Karpicke / Director of Admissions and School Counselor

PS2-techno-1You may have read articles about the private school admissions process at schools across the country. You know, the schools where you have to apply for your child’s admission before he or she is born.   The admissions process at Sycamore School is very different from that.  Knowing what to expect can help steer you toward your goal of securing enrollment for your child.

Here are ten tips to help you navigate the admissions waters at Sycamore:

  1. Share what you know about your child. You have found your way to Sycamore because you think you might have a bright child who would benefit from a challenging and stimulating education. Parents are among the best identifiers of gifted children and your input is very important.
  1. Because our mission is to serve the needs of gifted children, Sycamore draws from a narrower population than most private schools. Consequently, our applicant to opening ratio is smaller than most schools and our waiting lists, when necessary, are short.
  1. Our admissions staff and our division heads, who are the academic leaders of each division, are eager to learn about your child and to share Sycamore’s program with you. We are not trying to keep your child out of Sycamore; instead we look forward to welcoming him or her into this unique learning environment.
  1. Current Sycamore students welcome new students. While it’s true that most of our graduates began school in our Preschool program and many have made lifelong friends over the years, they are always eager for new students to join at every grade level.
  1. You need to tour the school. It’s great to be able to apply online but you also need to see the school in action, watch the teachers and students interacting, observe the incredible student art on the walls, hear the wonderful music in the halls, and feel the energy at the school.
  1. Complete and submit all of the necessary application forms. The Admissions Committee does not review a student’s file until it is complete.  You need to submit:
  1. Schedule an assessment for your child. Three-year-old preschool screening is scheduled through the Admissions Office at Intelligence testing for kids entering PreK-8 is scheduled through Dr. Gange at
  1. Apply for need-based financial assistance if needed. You will find the financial aid application in the admissions section of our website.
  1. Once your child’s application file is complete and has been reviewed by the Admissions Committee, the Admissions Office will call you to schedule a school visit for your child.
  1. If you are interested in Sycamore for your child, don’t wait to apply. All private schools, including Sycamore, have limited openings.  Even though many of our admissions happen in the spring for the upcoming school year, we admit students at any time during the school year if we have openings at the appropriate grade level.

So, if you think you might have a gifted child, contact Sycamore’s Admissions Office.  Our staff is excited about the opportunity to get to know your child and we promise to help provide support through the admissions process.

Karpicke Susan_
Dr. Susan Karpicke had two of her children attend Sycamore School, and has been the Director of Admissions here for more than 25 years. She also is a licensed counselor, and combining the two skills has proven to be an invaluable addition to the admissions process for parents.

Importance of Student Choice in Differentiated Education

flagcrew_phiferBy Glenna Lykens / Head of Lower School / Sycamore School

Possibly one of the most important components of differentiation is student choice in the classroom. The more choice students have the more engaged they are in their learning, and the more motivated they are to grow in that learning.

When students have choices they become stakeholders in their learning. Sycamore teachers work to find many ways to include student choice in what they learn (content), how they learn (process), and how they will show what they have learned (product).

When I have conversations with people about Sycamore I will often be asked the question, “What is different about Sycamore?” I think there are many factors that make Sycamore School an amazing environment for academically gifted students. Our teachers are knowledgeable and passionate about teaching these students. They love working with gifted kids, they love the disciplines that they teach, and they are life-long learners themselves. It’s rare to find a school where every adult in the building – teachers, administrators, and support staff – understands gifted students and the tenets of gifted education.

Teachers work hard to sustain learning for our students. To do this there needs to be a balance between effort and success. Many times in schools a gifted learner has much success with very little effort. Effective differentiation will keep the learner’s ratios of effort and success balanced. In this way a student will be motivated to stretch and learn.

Our teachers (and great teachers everywhere) differentiate by planning varied approaches to what students need to learn, how they will learn it, and how they will show what they have learned. This keeps the balance between effort and success for each student.

Teachers design choices that help students have a sense of control, purpose, and competence. A sense of control can help students become autonomous learners. A sense of purpose makes an activity more meaningful and can build relationships. A sense of competence is fostered when teachers remember that balance between effort and success.

At Sycamore, teachers in Lower School incorporate student choice throughout the units they teach. Students in all grade levels have opportunities to research topics of interest. They are given choice in their topic and often in how they share their information. In literature, along with their guided study of a variety of genres, students also have an independent reading component in which they can choose books of interest. During math classes students are encouraged to choose from a variety of strategies to solve problems and then discuss their strategies with others. Students may be given the choice to work on a project alone or in a group. For some lessons students may be able to choose activities from a menu of options.

Throughout the year, in every academic and special area classroom, I see examples of student choice. I see our students grow as learners. I watch them gain autonomy, purpose, and competence.

Glenna Lykens is Sycamore School’s Head of Lower School, overseeing grades 1-4.  A classroom teacher at Sycamore before taking her current position, she has taught and focused on differentiated education for more than 20 years.

High Ability Preschoolers:  Who are they and what do they need?

By Francine Clayton / Head of Early Childhood / Sycamore School

birdnestAll parents delight in watching their children grow and develop new skills.  However, there are some children who will show characteristics at a very early age that indicate a high ability.  A parent may notice that their children will become highly focused on a particular topic. The topic may change over time but it is very clear that he or she wants to know more and will show an interest in detailed information.  High ability children are extremely curious, often very verbal, and will remain focused for extended periods of time.  They begin to develop an early sense of humor.

High ability children have an excellent memory and often express ideas that are well beyond their chronological age.  As a result, they may prefer to play with older playmates.  These children are very sensitive and indicate a strong sense of social justice. They are empathetic and anxious for things to be fair.  Although some gifted children may begin reading at an early age, not all gifted children will do so.  Once parents identify some or many of these characteristics, they need to look for a school environment that will support their child’s needs.  It is important that children with a high potential be provided with an environment that will support their considerable skills and social-emotional needs.

Many children have their first formal education experience at the age of three.  This is often the age that they enter a preschool program.  There are many preschool options available.  What qualities should a parent look for when selecting an experience for their gifted preschooler?  It is important to remember that, although a young child may show strong cognitive skills, they are still very young.  Daily opportunity for physical activity through physical education classes or playground access is very important.

Young children also need an environment that allows movement within the classroom and some time every day for free exploration of materials and center areas. Information should be presented through hands-on activities that allow the child to learn by doing. Learning topics need to be appropriate for in- depth study.  These topics should be supplemented with field trips and access to experts in the area of study.  High ability young children need to be stimulated to develop their critical and higher level thinking skills as well as their creativity.  Rather than just memorizing facts and information, gifted children need the opportunity to use the information to form opinions, solve problems and create products that indicate their understanding of the subject.  The children should have opportunities for large and small group instruction.  A low teacher- student ratio is ideal.

The key to successfully educating high ability children is the classroom teacher.  Gifted children can be challenging.  They have unique social and emotional needs. The teacher must enjoy that challenge and understand the needs of the student.   He or she should have teaching credentials and evidence of continued study in the field of gifted education.  Experience with high ability children is very valuable.  Gifted children require just the right amount of challenge to keep them interested and involved in their education. Understanding this and providing the necessary challenge requires experience and knowledge.

If you believe that you may have a gifted preschooler, look for an appropriate learning environment for him or her at an early age.  Your young child is gifted now and needs appropriate instruction now rather than waiting until second or third grade.  These children have been given a rare gift and parents have the responsibility to nurture that gift.  Enjoy the years ahead.  They will be challenging and wonderful.


Clayton Francine n

Francine Clayton is the Head of Early Childhood at Sycamore School in Indianapolis. She taught PreK at Sycamore for 13 years before becoming head of childhood in 2010.  She’s the mom of two girls and grandmother of two.  Originally from Nebraska, she did her graduate work in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan before moving to Indiana to teach. 

Practice What You Teach – Jamie MacDougall

by Jamie MacDougall / Head of Middle School / Sycamore School

Teachers have the good fortune of spending their days delving into the their area of passion and sharing it with those around them. That time is spent crafting lessons that will allow their students to grow their skill and interest in the area of focus. They dissect the best ways to disseminate and dissect information, getting into the nooks and crannies of structure, craning their proverbial necks to see what other perspectives can add to their understanding. They introduce, address, assess, and encourage their students to practice, practice, practice!!!!

The words have been put into place and the students are practicing, but we realized that most of our time was spent writing writing-curriculum that it was time we practice what we TEACH!


Author caps on, this summer several Sycamore teachers and administrators are putting their virtual pens into practice via an online summer writing camp, spearheaded by beloved author Kate Messner, titled “Teachers Write!” The online camp gives teachers and librarians, and a few rogue administrators, the opportunity to sit down behind the pen and write as they ask their students to do.

From July 6-August 2 we join over a thousand campers write and share and read and share all following this basic framework:
Monday: Morning Warm-Up with Jo Knowles and a Mini-Lesson
Tuesday: Quick-Write
Wednesday: Q & A Day where an arsenal of authors are online to answer our writing questions!
Thursday: Quick-Write
Friday: Feedback with Gae Polisner
Sunday: Check-In with Jen Vincent

The first mini-lesson of the week asked writers to unabashedly wonder in a 15-20 minute write. Wonder came in many forms:
I wonder about the going-ons in my neighbors’ houses.
I wonder what if the nail in the floor that is loose downstairs aches when we step on the piece of wood it is supposed to be holding tightly in place.
I wonder what it would be like to live in New York and work at the library.
I wonder if you really could install dorm rooms behind lockers at school.
I wonder what it would be like to live in my office…to live outdoors for a whole year, in the city…and then in the woods.
I wonder if massive cheese consumption is really bad for you or if it is just some conspiracy.

So far it has not only been a good exercise in writing, but thinking about the power of practice, the power of possibility. Only a few days in, we are finding that this practice of our practice is allowing us to reflect and assess; to clarify and organize; to foster clear communication; to develop our voices.

I wonder what the next few weeks of continual writing will bring.

Perhaps practice won’t make perfect, but practicing our practice makes perfect sense.

MacDougall Jamie
Jamie MacDougall has been the Head of Middle School at Sycamore since 2011.  She hails from the frozen north, proudly calling Duluth, Minnesota her hometown. Jamie now lives in Indianapolis, and enjoys books, running and being with the students of Sycamore School.

Looking at Sycamore’s Strategic Plan and Financial Aid – from CFO Patrick Juday

By Patrick Juday – Sycamore Chief Financial Officer

One of the aspects of my position as CFO at Sycamore School that I derive the most personal reward from is assisting families with meeting the challenges of affording the cost of sending their children to a top private school.  When I started working here five years ago, Sycamore had a reputation as being “stingy” with financial aid by not offering as much as other schools.  When we looked at the data it appeared that there was some truth to this.  Sycamore’s budget for financial aid amounted to 7% of the total budgeted tuition revenue.  Compared to the National Association of Independent School’s nationwide average of 12-13%, it was clear that there was room for improvement.

Within two years, the Board of Trustees embarked on developing a companion philosophical statement for the school’s mission statement.  Included in this was a statement specific to financial aid, an excerpt which reads “Sycamore aspires to fund a larger financial aid budget on par with the NAIS average of 13% of gross tuition revenue”, setting a benchmark that aligns with other private schools and a clear charge for the school to take financial aid more seriously.

prek_bwThe Finance Committee of the board also developed a five year Strategic Financial Plan, which is reviewed and updated every year.  This plan takes a prospective look of the school’s finances complete with multiple variables and scenarios.  The Strategic Financial Plan puts into action a steady, sustainable incremental increase in financial aid each year, and in a manner that doesn’t place an undue financial burden on the school in meeting its operational needs.  For the 2015-2016 fiscal year, the school budgeted 10.5% in financial aid.  While we have not arrived at the benchmark yet, we have made significant progress in meeting the goal.  Additionally, Sycamore School has achieved this 1) without the benefit of a large endowment and 2) while keeping tuition increases on pace or below the Indianapolis private school market.

While the data points associated with the school’s financial aid efforts are all well and good, it is the direct contact with families that provides the greatest meaning to me.  Over the years I have received various expressions of gratitude, from thank you letters to tears from families who would not have been able to have their gifted child attend Sycamore if it were not for financial aid.  These are the most touching and poignant moments I encounter at Sycamore, and they touch me on a personal level.  It’s during these moments that the purpose of Sycamore School as a non-profit organization becomes crystal clear to me; to carry out the mission of serving gifted students, including those needing assistance.  If Sycamore did not offer financial aid, seats would be empty and the program that relies on peer interaction would fall short, maybe to the point of failing, and certainly not living up to fulfilling promise.  Extending financial aid is a necessity for the health and continuity of Sycamore School, and we all stand to reap the benefits.

What Goes On At Sycamore School in the Summer?

IMG_7005by Diane Borgmann – Head Of School/Sycamore School

Not infrequently, I get asked, “What do you and your staff do all summer? Why do you need to work in the summer?” There’s much work to be accomplished during the summer, and we work diligently to prepare for the coming school year.

Administrators and support staff at Sycamore are 12-month employees. Teachers and classroom assistants are academic year employees. Although some teachers teach in our summer programs, that is not a requirement.

Following is a brief summary of what keeps us busy during the weeks of summer:
We reflect.
As an Administrative Leadership Team, we meet for 4-5 full days spaced throughout the summer to accomplish our collaborative work. One of the first items on our collective agenda is the discussion of our successes and disappointments from the previous year. We compare perspectives and celebrate appropriately or make decisions about changes that will improve areas of disappointment. At this point we have lots of feedback to consider—from students, parents, and colleagues. This is probably one of the most important times of the summer, and it sets our work agenda going forward.

We recharge.
During the summer we can sometimes escape the frenetic pace of the school year to step back and think about what’s important, consider new ideas, and stimulate ourselves. We do this through professional reading, conferences, teaching in summer programs, and simply relaxing. Although our schedules are pretty full in the summer, we don’t have many school-related evening activities, and our workdays are a little shorter. We challenge and stimulate each other through group reading. This summer our Administrative Leadership Team is reading Ungifted by Scott Barry Kaufman. All Sycamore employees are reading one or more of the following books: Wonder by R.J. Palacio; Play: How it Stimulates the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown, M.D.; Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson; and The Big Disconnect by Catherine Steiner Adair.

We recalculate.
Considering where we’ve been and what we’ve accomplished, we set goals for the coming year at every level: Board; Head of School; whole school; division/department; and individual. Teachers create new units to teach their curriculum and revise units they have in place. Although teachers are not contracted to work regularly in the summer, they do lots of planning and curriculum development in the summer. The Admissions Office works to fill remaining seats throughout the school. The Advancement Office continues to raise funds to support Sycamore.

We recreate.
Some things in a school can be used multiple years, but most things need revision and reinvention. Each year we revise our summer program offerings to attract broad participation from both Sycamore and non-Sycamore kids. The master schedule usually needs some reworking to accommodate program modifications and teaching changes. The Admissions Office works on recreating materials and strategies for the coming admissions season. Our Business Office closes out our fiscal year and creates the calendar of operations for the coming year. Our Technology Department works to upgrade and reimage our devices, and implement changes in hardware, software and operating environments.

We regroup.
We complete any necessary hiring and orient new faculty and staff during the summer. This year we’ve hired new teachers for 1st Grade, 2nd Grade, Middle School Math, and P.E. We are in the process of hiring a new Advancement and Alumni Coordinator and a Human Resources Coordinator. We will also be hiring a few new classroom assistants. We work on faculty and staff assignment of responsibilities and expectations. We also meet individually with every family new to Sycamore to get to know each family, to allow an opportunity for individual questions, and to just chat for a bit.

We renovate.
Our Maintenance Department always has big projects to accomplish in the summer that can’t be completed while classes are in session. This summer there will be some painting, some storage space renewal, and the removal of the torchieres in the Library.

So, we are busy! Summer is a very productive time, and it allows for smooth and positive operations throughout the school year. The only day we close Sycamore in the summer is for the July 4 holiday (this year, it was last Friday, July 3). We’re hard at work to set the stage for a terrific school year!

College Choices for 2015 HS Grads

The Sycamore School class of 2011 graduated from high school this spring, and is headed to college this fall.  Here are the choices they have made, as they continue their education throughout the country this fall.

Ball State University
Butler University
Columbia University
Davidson College
DePaul University
DePauw University
Indiana University
Johns Hopkins University
Miami (OH) University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Purdue University
Princeton University
Stanford University
The College of Wooster
University of California – San Diego
University of Chicago
University of Pennsylvania
Vanderbilt University
Wake Forest University
Yale University

Third Graders Exchange Bookmarks with School in Kenya

bookmark-(2)Sycamore third grade teacher Deb Reidy recently arranged a bookmark exchange with a third grade teacher at
the International School of Kenya. She was put in contact with the teacher and school through an author named
Susan Hughes. Mrs. Reidy’s homeroom students made bookmarks and wrote short letters for the students
there, and we received the same things from them. As you can see from the pics, the children at the school
come from many different countries. It has been a wonderful way for Sycamore students to connect with
children from all over the world!

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Susan skiman jones

Hello Grade 3,
Thank you so much for our lovely bookmarks. We hope you enjoy ours.

Nairobi is a wonderful place to live. We have constant spring weather, beautiful flowering trees and bushes and
MANY birds! Below is a picture of kids in our class. It is also on the school’s website
Our school has about 850 kids from Pre-K to 12th grade. We have 90+ nationalities represented, WOW! That is
a lot of different languages and accents floating in the air :) We all get along beautifully and share in the Karibu
“welcome” spirit of Kenya.

Many of us travel to other countries during our school holidays. Our parents mostly work for embassies or the
UN, and some work for private companies. We love it here! We are getting ready (writing our scripts) to
perform our Wax Museum of Global contributors. We will send you pictures :)

Our teachers, Ms. Skiman Jones and Ms. Musyoka are fun!